The first shall be first. It is hard to escape the prevalent drive for number one. And, it is difficult to miss it in the church.
Not A Hand Up
Social services receive their fair share of criticism. Claims of creating dependency and the promotion of a Welfare State are not infrequent. The better pattern for some is the offer of a hand up not a hand out.
My guest today on the podcast, Nathaniel Welch, challenges the Church, local churches, that in his estimation have become the Church of the First. Ministries to the Last, and the least, are often aimed at helping them become the First. Programs and activities line up with the underlying sentiment, “We will help you be one of us.”
What if the drive to help the Last become the First sabotages the ongoing conversion of the Church/church?
Instead Step Down
John, the gospel writer, did not include the story of the Last Supper. Instead he shared the story of the wash basin and the towel. Jesus washed the disciples feet not to say, “I will help you be me.” Instead, Jesus stepped out of his role as Teacher, as One with Authority, and served the disciples in a most debasing manner.
The Apostle Paul wrote what is referred to as the Kenotic Text, the emptying passage. Jesus let go of his position and entered the human experience empty.
Nathaniel prompts us to consider taking this step. He does not describe a move where someone keeps their power after proving what a good person they are. Instead, he challenges us to consider that the real move is the downward move. It is the Jesus move.
The Church/church is often unsure what to do with people unlike them. That could well describe ethnicity and economics. But, there is another group. Nathaniel considers those with intellectual disabilities and physical disabilities as the Last that have not need for someone to say to them, “We will help you be like us.”
Rather, Nathaniel considers those with disabilities to be the Last that the Church of the First needs in order to be rescued from missing the Good News. It is often Jesus’ words that taste sweet in the mouth but are bitter in the stomach. The trouble is with our digestion. It is hard to give up old habits and patterns of thinking.
People like the theory of the Last being First. But, Welch is concerned the Church/church is more concerned with the structures it has created for the First in our world that it not only misses the Last but that it works toward ways that are more like a hand up than a step down.
Who Is Nathaniel?
For more than ten years Nathaniel Welch pursued music education and the opportunities that created. Along the way he took time out to care for his brother with intellectual and physical disabilities. Every. Day. During that time he made observations as he went to church often wondering, “Where are people like my brother?”
Their absence prompted Nathaniel to pack up from the Midwest and head to be among the first students at The Hatchery LA. There he has not only studied theology but has continued to think about the Last. In this episode we talk about what motivates his passion that the Church/church become the Church of the Last.
Here are links to the books we discuss the have helped Nathaniel think through a Theology of Disability